The Hummel Report

Investigative Reports That Get Results

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Protected Streets?

Millions of taxpayer dollars are going into the streets of Providence - literally - as the city is more than halfway toward completion of a $40 million road repaving project. This week, Jim Hummel is back with an issue a taxpayer raised two years ago: Why are utility companies digging up some of the roads within months of having new asphalt put down when they’ve agreed to stay away from these protected streets?

SCRIPT:

Wherever you go in Providence, they are hard to miss: freshly paved streets. A welcomed relief for beleaguered motorists who for years have had to navigate through streets that looked like this.

The city is more than halfway through a $40 million paving project approved by voters in 2012 and expects to finish ahead of schedule by the end of the year.

Damico: ``I think the paving has actually been great. Because we’re out here on Manton Avenue, it was pretty much hellacious, it was all chopped up.’’

Jim Damico lives in Providence near the Johnston line and rides his bicycle every day the weather allows him to. So he notices things about the roads many motorists don’t.

We first met Damico two years ago after the city repaved and installed a bicycle lane on Broadway - his preferred riding route to work on the East Side. He was concerned then that within months of the paving, utility markings appeared on the street - and some other streets were dug up shortly after the paving work.

Now Damico says, it’s happening again.

Damico: ``But now that they’ve repaved it I’ve been noticing more and more utility companies are coming in and cutting up the roads, which seems to be antithetical to the $40 million the taxpayers have invested in.’’

Bombard: ``Most of the work is being done as emergencies…’’

DPW Director Bill Bombard answered Damico’s concerns then - and now. Bombard said the utility companies signed an agreement in 2008 not to work on newly-paved streets for five years unless it was an emergency. And if they had to, the street had to be restored to its newly-paved condition.

We went back to Bombard again last week to talk about markings and cuts The Hummel Report has seen on newly-paved road throughout the city.

Bombard: ``Utility cuts can accelerate the decay of a road exponentially.’’

Hummel: ``And why is that, because the weather gets in? Compromises the seal?’’

Bombard: ``Yeah, once you break that mat, you create a seam, the seam allows for water to penetrate the road - saturate the base and it makes it decay more quickly.’’

Bombard says he meets with the utility companies monthly and has made it clear to them the city needs to protect its investment.

Bombard: ``We’ve spent taxpayer money to fix these roads, we don’t want you digging them up just because you want to put a new water main, new gas main, new electrical line. Something like that.’’

Hummel: ``And they agreed to that.’’

Bombard: ``Yes they did. It’s not that it totally prevents it, just that we make sure that they do extra work to restore it back to the condition it was - curb-to-curb paving and other conditions that are included.’’

But Damico questions whether the city is putting any bite behind its bark.

Hummel: ``Do you see any change since we talked?’’

Damico: ``No, no, not at all - I mean right up here on Manton Avenue they just finished paving this in December and it’s already marked up with Providence Water and National Grid.’’

Damico also took these pictures of a section of Chalkstone Avenue that was paved last year - a cut was made within weeks and hasn’t been restored almost nine months later.

Earlier this month we found this National Grid crew working on a section of Chalkstone Avenue just east of Mount Pleasant.

Bombard produced permits the utility had pulled for of the work, indicating it was an emergency.

Bombard: ``When we receive a permit application we compare that against a list we maintain for recently paved roads. We call these protected streets. So if they absolutely have to disturb the road, then they recognize they have this additional cost as opposed to simply patching a trench.’’

Translation: they need to make the cuts they’ve made disappear and look like the original paving job - outlined in the ``protected street agreement’’ between the city and utility.

We found another section on Canal Street that had been cut up in March.

Damico: ``If it is an emergency, fine, but you still shouldn’t let the cut not be repaired properly for more than 30 days, I don’t think.’’

Bombard said the road needs to settle - usually for about three months - before it can be repaved. That doesn’t answer why the Chalkstone cut still looks like this more than six months later.

Damico questions whether the city is going back to make sure the work is done according to spec.

Damico: ``I mean it’s great that we have newly-paved roads, but when you go back and cut ‘em back up, it defeats the purpose. If the idea is to repair it to what it was, a brand new road, it’s not happening.’’

Hummel: ``What’s the message to the city here?’’

Damico: ``Please, please protect the investment. Because $40 million is a lot of cash. Please hold the utility companies responsible and accountable.’’

In Providence, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.